I represented Croatia around the world, won medals… In the end I have nothing to show for it. The only thing I have is the club, it gave me new life and without it I would probably be on the street
On his right forearm is a tattoo. A straight line morphing into the sentence “Never give up,” followed by EKG heartbeats. For Tomislav Marković it serves as a reminder and dedication to the victory of life. Nearly a year ago his heart stopped beating, he was clinically dead for 27 minutes… “As my leg was operated on in December, I wasn’t in full training, working simply on maintaining strength. I completed a line of exercises I’ve been doing my whole life, coming to the last exercise. It went fine until I landed on my feet and everything went black. Robert Seligman was next to me, I told him: ‘I’m not feeling well.’ I lay down, feet raised and after that I don’t remember anything,” recalls Marković the scene from a year ago, the day that changed his life, as Gradimir Đukarić reported for Večernji List on March 29, 2018.
He was between life and death, in those dramatic moments coaches Boris Čulina and Vladimir Mađarević took turns massaging hi heart and pumping air into his lungs, restlessly animating him until the ambulance showed up. He woke up in the hospital unaware of anything that took place. “I woke up around 20h, with doctors, parents, wife around me, and I didn’t know where I am, what happened, am I dreaming… Nothing made sense. Everything they told me, hitting my head, making strange noises, I don’t recall.” The very next morning he posted on social networks: “What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.”
“I think a lot and try to recall anything in those 27 minutes which changed my life. Maybe I shouldn’t, but it still bothers me. To be clinically dead for 27 minutes is…” He pauses and continues: “I don’t know how to ever thank the people who came to my aid. I am in their debt forever, they gave me something quite rare.” He had those 27 minutes tattooed on his forearm. “I am normally afraid of needles, I am prone to fainting. But I am so used to them after the hospitals that tattoos are not an problem anymore. The straight line is death, followed by a message “never give up” and then EKG heartbeats,” he explains the symbolism.
It is a question whether Marković would have been an athlete if he was diagnosed with heart problems in time. A heart ultrasound is not mandatory for athletes. “If I had done an ultrasound, there is now way they wouldn’t see it as the heart was very damaged on the left side,” says Marković. The price he had to pay from the perspective of a professional athlete was the highest – after 27 years devoted to gymnastics he had to end his career, losing his biggest dream: winning a European medal.
His life turned upside down. “No more training, no positive jitters, not I lead a completely relaxed life. I cannot work, have to take care of myself, making up with family everything I missed out on, spending a lot of time with my daughters. I used to be absent frequently, almost 250 days a year.” He spends a lot of time with daughters Lana and Petra, and his wife Tanja recently opened a hair salon in the Osijek neighbourhood they live in. Tomislav says his condition only allows him to sweep. “I still believe I will be back to gymnastics. But it is nice when there is no stress, no pain. Gymnasts are used to living with pain. You wake up and everything hurts. It’s nice to live without the stress of competition, but again I am now used to spending 2-3 hours a day at the gym doing something. Even when I stand in for coaches I feel empty, useless, as if I didn’t do my job. I miss the feeling of completing something, an exercise and then going home satisfied. I need to learn to live with that.”
While he was winning medals for Croatia, over 150 in his career, a hundred of them gold, he was celebrated, and now? “Many have asked me what an athlete is after his career and 27 years in sports. What would happen if the club gave up on me? I represented Croatia around the world. In the end I have nothing to show for it. The only thing left is the club, it gave me new life and without it I would be on the street today.” His club, GK Osijek Žito, stayed at his side. “People who have given something through sports for the state, should get something from it back. Maybe a job in the state, town, county services. I am still on sick leave, with my check-up coming in April and I hope to be able to work. It all depends on how my heart recovered.”
Gymnastics are his life, he spent 27 of his 32 years in the gym. And wants to stay there. He has plenty to show young Osijek gymnasts. “I want to stay in the club. But the club needs a coach that can work with kids, and I can only talk to them, and physically I will never be able to. We shall see.” He was given a new chance at life, reborn, proud of his spots career and eagerly awaiting what follows. “I’ve done a lot in my career, missing only a European medal, my only regret. I believe someone from above is watching, it had to be this way, for a reason. As I was given a second chance, there must be something else I must do in this world, although I still don’t know what it is,” concluded Tomislav.
He had to end one career, and the second one has just begun. He did not give up when his heart stopped beating, he did not lose his smile when he had to give up his career. Besides, what can you expect from a man whose motto is “What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.”
Translated from Večernji List, for the original click here.